The Raven, the Dove, and the Olive Leaf, or How Did Noah Know?

After being confined to the ark for many months, Noah and his family must have been anxious for freedom. About five months after they entered the ark, it rested on a mountaintop (Genesis 8:4). A little more than two months later, the tops of some nearby mountains became visible (Genesis 8:5).

Noah now faced a difficult decision. God had told him when to board the ark, but not when it was safe to exit. He apparently had to figure that out on his own.

Visibility was limited—perhaps there was only a small window at the top. Presumably opening the ark too soon would be catastrophic. So Noah waited another 40 days before attempting to determine if it was time (Genesis 8:6).

He took the following actions to “test the waters:”

  1. He released a raven. The bird did not return, but he saw it flying back and forth, which didn’t inspire confidence that there was any place to land (Genesis 8:7).
  2. He released a dove, which returned shortly after (Genesis 8:8-9).
  3. Seven days later, he released the dove again, which returned with an olive leaf in her beak, suggesting that the waters had receded substantially (Genesis 8:10-11).
  4. He waited seven more days before rereleasing the dove. This time it did not return (Genesis 8:12).

I’ve been thinking today about Noah’s knowledge-gathering process. He was careful, staying in place until he was sure it was safe to leave. He took advantage of the resources he had available to him. He conducted a series of incremental fact-finding activities, and patiently observed outcomes to draw wise conclusions about the ark’s status.

We all make decisions with limited information. Like Nephi and his brothers, we may have to try multiple strategies to see which one works. (See 1 Nephi 3, 4.) Like Limhi, we may listen to people with first-hand knowledge. (See 8:7-8.) Like Zoram or Captain Moroni, we may seek revelation from trusted spiritual leaders. (See Alma 16:5-6, Alma 43:23-24.) Like Mormon, we may seek answers directly from God. (See Moroni 8:7.)

I’m particularly impressed with Noah’s patience during this fact-finding process. He didn’t jump to conclusions. He didn’t panic. He didn’t read too much into the evidence he had been given. He was willing to wait for more information before making an important decision which would affect not only him but also his family.

President Dallin H. Oaks counseled us to “be cautious as we seek truth and choose sources for that search.” He said, “Our personal decisions should be based on information from sources that are qualified on the subject and free from selfish motivations” (“Truth and the Plan,” General Conference, October 2018).

Elder M. Russell Ballard provided the following additional guidance:

My calling and life experiences allow me to respond to certain types of questions. There are other types of questions that require an expert in a specific subject matter. This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to such questions: I seek help from others, including those with degrees and expertise in such fields….

If you have a question that requires an expert, please take the time to find a thoughtful and qualified expert to help you.

Questions and Answers,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 14 November 2017

Today, I will take the time to find the information I need to make wise decisions. Like Noah, I will be patient and careful. I will evaluate available information prudently and base my decisions on the best information available.

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